FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Understanding the Crazy Cycle

with Emerson Eggerichs | July 28, 2008
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If your marriage was a car, would you say one of your tires was flat? Today on the broadcast, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, author of the book Love and Respect, explains how a couple can get out of the crazy cycle and on their way to a fulfilling marriage.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • If your marriage was a car, would you say one of your tires was flat? Today on the broadcast, Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, author of the book Love and Respect, explains how a couple can get out of the crazy cycle and on their way to a fulfilling marriage.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

If your marriage was a car, would you say one of your tires was flat?

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Understanding the Crazy Cycle

With Emerson Eggerichs
July 28, 2008
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: Washing machines have different cycles and according to Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, so do marriages.  Some marriages are stuck in what he calls "the crazy cycle."

Emerson: The crazy cycle has to be understood based on Ephesians 5:33 that it says husbands must love their wives, and I concluded apparently she needs to feel love for who she is.  It made perfect sense to me; that's why the command exists.  But wives are commanded to respect their husbands and apparently he has a need to feel respected for who he is apart from his performance.  And what I've discovered is that no husband feels fond feelings of love and affection in his heart toward a woman he thinks despises who he is as a human being.  He shuts down.  So the crazy cycle is without love she reacts, without respect, he reacts without love, without love she reacts without respect, without respect he reacts without love, and this baby starts to spin.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, July 28th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  If your marriage is in the crazy cycle, we're going to tell you today how to stop the spinning and get things back where they belong.

[sounds of washing machine on spin cycle]

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition.  I'll tell you, it is easy for a relationship to get into this crazy cycle.  In fact, we run into couples all the time at our FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference who tell us that they just kind of got sideways, and they're there for a tuneup, a little wheel alignment, an adjustment to their marriage, and this week our FamilyLife Today listeners have an opportunity to register for one of these wheel alignments and save up to $100 per couple off the complete weekend experience. 

But in order to take advantage of this special offer, we need to hear from them before midnight on Friday, and I think we're making that midnight Pacific time so that folks have full opportunity to take advantage of this opportunity.  You can attend one of the fall Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences as a FamilyLife Today listener, and if you register this week, you will save up to $100 per couple off the complete package.

Now, to take advantage of that opportunity, you need to call us at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-368-6329.  We can help you with dates and locations and all of the information you need and get you registered over the phone, but make sure you identify yourself as a friend of Bob or as a radio listener in order to qualify for the special offer.

If you want to do the research online at, when you fill out your registration form online, again, you'll come to a keycode box on the registration form for the Weekend to Remember – type my name in there – just type "Bob" and, again, you'll qualify for this special offer.  You can save up to $100 per couple off the complete package.  This is the last week to take advantage of it, so go to the website or call us, and we hope to see you at one of these weekend conferences when they kick off in September, and then they continue every weekend through – I think it's the middle of December.  Again, all the details are at our website at or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY.  And one of the things that happens at the Weekend to Remember is that couples who get sideways in a marriage, we can help them understand how to get back facing each other again.

I mean, have you and Barbara ever – well, I know you have.

Dennis: Of course, we have.

Bob: Have you found yourselves in a place in your marriage where you're looking at each other and going "How did we get here and why don't we like each other?"

Dennis: Are you talking about a ditch?

Bob: Yes, I'm talking about being off where – you don't know how you got there, and you're just not happy.  Neither one of you is particularly happy, and you're not sure how to get back out of it.

Dennis: Yes, many times.  In fact, I've been off in the ditch with one tire, two, and all four.

Bob: You had the whole car off …

Dennis: I had the whole care off in the ditch.

Bob: Any damage to the fenders in the process?

Dennis: Yes, there's been some need to go to the repair doctor, you know, the dent doctor, so to speak, and that's what God delights in.  You know, His Word talks about grace and forgiveness and helps us know what to do when we have hurt one another.  And, you know, over our 32 years of marriage, if there's been any message I have learned over and over again is that Barbara and I are different.  She needs something far different than I need and in different ways than I need it.  And I wish our guest had come along about 32 years earlier, but unfortunately he looks like he would be in grade school if he'd come along 32 years earlier and probably wouldn't have had too much to have said.

Bob: Not too much wisdom at that point?

Dennis: Dr. Emerson Eggerichs joins us on FamilyLife Today.  Emerson, welcome to our broadcast.

Emerson: Thank you, Dennis.

Dennis: You know, I really like the theme of what you talk about.  You have a ministry called Love and Respect.  You and your wife Sarah have three children, right?

Emerson: Yes.

Dennis: I was looking at your bio – are you an empty-nester now?

Emerson: I am, and Sarah and I are loving it, and our children are calling us asking us what we're up to.

Dennis: Yes, no kidding.  You just finished a book called "Love and Respect."  You have Love and Respect conferences all across the country, and it's my understanding you had a time in your marriage when it was – how did you refer to it – a "crazy cycle?"

Emerson: Yes, yes, well, and actually, that crazy cycle is a reference back to something I saw as a pastor in Ephesians 5:33, which most of us have seen, and there the Apostle Paul summarizes the greatest treatise in the New Testament, most of us would say, is Ephesians 5, and this is as though it's God's last word to the Church.  It's, like, if I had a grandfather who was dying, and he said, "Emerson, come close, I have something I want to tell you in my last moments."  Well, you know and I know that whatever he is going to say to me, I'm going to be listening very carefully, because the last words a person speaks are the most important.

It's as though God is saying, "I've given the last word to the Church.  Listen, Church, listen to me.  Here is what I want to say to you that will make a difference – My last word."  And there Paul says husbands must love their wives with agape love, that's that unconditional God-like love, and wives must respect their husbands.  And that last part of the verse was the thing that really struck me.  I knew the first part – that she has one driving need, and that's to feel love for who she is, and she needs love like she needs air to breathe.  She has a love-tank, so to speak, connected by an air hose, and she needs to breathe in that air and love, because it's the key to her survival. 

That's where Sarah was – we've been married since 1973, and I could just sense it always came back to love.  She needed to feel that I loved her for who she was, and she would ask that question.  She would seek information about that.  And so that air hose that was connected to that love tank was the key, in some ways, to her survival.  But I had this tendency to come in and stand on her air hose.

Dennis: I apologize for referring to you as being younger than me.  We got married in '72.  So it sounds like you had a few tires off in the ditch where you learned some of these lessons, too, huh?

Emerson: Yes, the car was upside down.


Bob: Both of you came from homes where you did not have a healthy model for what love and respect should look like in a marriage.

Emerson: Yes, that's right.  My mom and dad divorced one another when I was one, and then they remarried one another, for which I am thankful.

Dennis: How many years later?

Emerson: That's a good question.  I was asking my sister the other day as we were trying to think about it – I think they were divorced for about a year during that period, and then they remarried one another, and then they separated for several years.  Both Mom and Dad are now in heaven, so I don't have the exact detail, but they were separated all during my developmental time and were back and forth, so I think until, like, my third grade.  So – from one to third grade they were really not together – on again off again.

I wet the bed until I was 11.  I can remember crying myself to sleep many nights because Mom and Dad were in tension with one another.  My dad didn't know that I saw this.  He had died and gone to heaven, and I was just reflecting on my early childhood, and I said to Mom, "I remember that time Dad tried to strangle you."  And my mom's mouth dropped open, and she went, "You remember that?"  So we tried to figure out how old I must have been, but I can remember the scene.  Dad had his hands around her throat and had her up against the refrigerator, and I was hitting him to try to get him to stop, and then he hit me, and I went down.  And then I remember Mom outside crying the neighbor lady over, and then the scene stops.

Now, that was not reflective of my dad.  My dad is a good-willed man, but there was a moment where he lost it, and he had no intentions of killing her, but it was a frightening moment to Mom, to me, obviously, and Dad was frightened by it. 

So all of that is a backdrop and background information.  There is deep woundedness in me, and when I see a little child cry in response to Mommy and Daddy not getting along, I can't handle that very long.  It just pulls up out of me emotion, and I was surprised by it.  I didn't know it was there, but I've now discovered that's what's going on.

Bob: And Sarah grew up in a broken home as well?

Emerson: Same thing – there is nobody in the immediate family – many of them have come to Christ now but, in the past, nobody in that immediate family has remained married.  And not only have they been divorced, they've been divorced multiple times.  It is overwhelming to realize in that family unit the extent of divorce.  So both Sarah and I and our family units understand pain.

Bob: Did you know when you met one another at Wheaton and when you were falling in love and you were saying to one another, "We ought to get married," did you know that you had this background that was going to be a factor in how you loved one another and how you related to one another?

Emerson: That's an interesting question.  I need to think more about what was going on in our thoughts at that time.  We weren't fearful.  I do not remember being fearful.  I just remember thinking, "This is a woman that I could marry, and I know that I'd wake up every morning, and she could be my friend."  I do remember feeling that she could be my friend.

Dennis: Let me ask the question another way – was there a moment early in your marriage where, in a moment, in an instant, a snapshot, you got angry like your father …

Emerson: … oh, yes …

Dennis: … and, when was the first time you saw the terror in your wife's eyes?

Emerson: Well, terror – you know, I did not do toward Sarah what my dad had done toward my mother, so terror would be too strong of a word.  But I can remember her spirit getting wounded, getting quenched.  Because I have a command of the English language, I could twist things around and make her guilty, and I can remember her throwing her hands up in the air saying, "It's always me, it's always me, I'm always to blame."

But there were moments, obviously, that we all have, that you suddenly realize, you know, this is not working.  What's going on here?  And I can remember, it was like every month Sarah was upset with me, and I can remember many times saying, "I can never be good enough."  And you get frustrated, and you just stare out the window, and you're thinking, "What am I doing wrong here?"  And she would wonder, and she was very apologetic after times, you know, and so you'd get confused, big confusion.

Bob: Tell folks about the jean jacket and Christmas.  That's an illustration of what you're talking about, isn't it?

Emerson: You guys have read this book, I appreciate it.  Man, you're pulling all this stuff out.  This comes down to some of the temperament – personality differences, but Sarah made this jean jacket for me for Christmas, and gave it to me, and I said, "Thank you, I appreciate that."  And then she said, "You don't like it."  I said, "I do, too, like it."  She said, "No, you don't."  "I do, too."  "No, you don't."  I said, "Why would you say I don't like it?"  Because you're not really thanking me a lot.  In my family we thank, thank, thank, thank.  You're not really thanking.  We get excited, we say thank you a million times, and if you don't it means you really don't like it.  And I say that was one of my first introductions to how Sarah and I interpret the world.  We got in a huge conflict over that.  In fact, we were resurfacing that the other day, and she said, "You never did like it."


Bob: That's kind of how you wound up in, again, what you call the "crazy cycle."  The crazy cycle is where you just keep missing each other, isn't it?

Emerson: Yes, and the crazy cycle has to be understood based on Ephesians 5:33.  As I was saying, she has that one driving need to feel love for who she is, because it says husbands must love their wives, and I concluded, "Apparently she needs to feel love for who she is."  It made perfect sense to me; that's why the command exists.  But wives are commanded to respect their husbands and apparently has a need to feel respected for who he is apart from his performance.  And what I've discovered with de-feminism where license have been given to women to show contempt and disrespect toward a man in the home if he is not as loving as he ought to be, and she is trying to get a message through to him.  But what I realize is that no husband feels fond feelings of love and affection in his heart toward a woman he thinks despises who he is as a human being.  He shuts down.

So here is the crazy cycle – he needs to feel respect like he needs air to breathe.  He's got that respect tank with a hose connected to it.  And what I saw in my relationship with Sarah that when Sarah feels unloved at the core of her heart, you know, it's not that she, in a global sense, questions maybe that I love her, but I'm certainly coming across to her in a way that feels unloving, and her nature is not given to her by God to respond positively to that.  So she reacts.  I'm stepping on her air hose.  "Get off my air hose, you beast," kind of thing.  But what she didn't realize she was reacting in ways that felt hugely disrespectful to me.  Nobody ever talked to me that way.  So through my worldview, the way I am thinking, as man, I'm thinking, "Wow, this is something else."  So I tended to shut down.

When I felt disrespected then I did what most men do – you react – "Get off my air hose."  But we tend to distance ourselves, "Leave me alone, I don't deserve this disrespect.  Everybody respects me but you.  I don't like that."  So we go off by ourselves.  And here's the crazy cycle, then, Bob – without love Sarah tends to react in ways that feel disrespectful to me.  Without respect, I tend to react in ways that feel hugely unloving to Sarah, because she would never stonewall me at the point of conflict at the level of intimacy.

So the crazy cycle is without love she reacts without respect, without respect, he reacts without love, without love, she reacts without respect, without respect he reacts without love, and this baby starts to spin, and many good-willed couples are on it.  They are divorcing at epidemic rates, and they're on this crazy cycle, and they don't know how to get off, and many of them don't even know what they're doing because we've removed the idea of respect toward a man from the marital radar screen.

Bob: So you go back to Christmas, you open the package, you go, "Thanks," and she doesn't feel loved because it's not thanks the way she's used to getting thanks, right?

Emerson: That's right.  I don't appreciate all the work – she made it by hand – that I was not appreciating the thoughtfulness, the symbolism, that if I had done that toward her, you know, she would have been just – I would have had to peel her off the ceiling, she'd have been so excited.

Bob: And so then she says, "You don't like that," and you're going, "Yes, I do, you're not respecting me."

Emerson: That's exactly right, I'm telling you the truth here.

Bob: And now you're into the cycle …

Emerson:  Oh, big time.

Bob:  … where you're wanting to pull back because why is she acting this way, and she's going, "He doesn't love me," and couples move toward isolation.

Emerson: That's right, and what's so sad about it is that she seeks to do the loving thing when she feels unloved, but she comes across disrespectfully.  When I feel disrespected, I seek to do the honorable thing by calming myself down but end up coming across as unloving.

Dennis: I'm going to show you – I'm going to illustrate here what you're talking about.  What do you see there?

Emerson: I see your Bible in your left hand.

Dennis: My Bible – pretty perceptive, left hand, too.  Now, I want you to notice, as I turn it to Ephesians, chapter 5 – this is the only place in my entire Bible – what do you see now?

Emerson: I see a page that's been torn out.

Bob: Did you get angry and say …

Dennis: Ephesians, chapter 5, has been looked at so many times – it used to be hanging by a thread in my Bible, and I've got to find the Bible repairman to put this back in, and I think, honestly, as a husband, trying to go to the beginning part of the passage, Ephesians 5 – "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church."  That's my responsibility, and I've been trying to get that right since 1972.  You started in '73 – it takes a long time to learn how to be a lover.

Now, what are our wives looking for?  We don't have a lot of time left here, but what are our wives looking for when we're told we're to love them – real practical, now.

Emerson: Right.  Well, I think one of the things, based on what we're saying here in the crazy cycle – without love, when she feels unloved, she defensively reacts in ways, unfortunately, that offend us as men.  We feel, "I don't deserve this disrespect, this is offensive, you're negative," so we shut down.  One thing I'd say to a man is decode.  She is a good-willed woman.  When I married Sarah, I didn't say, "I hate you, and you hate me, so let's get married," right?  It didn't go down that way, right?  So you care deeply.

So here is what I say to men – I know you're feeling – when she is reacting in this negative way, decode, decode, decode, decode.  Here is what you have to do.  She's coming across in a way that feels very disrespectful to you.  In her world she knows that disrespect works, but it's a noodle in the face to get your attention to motivate you to know that she is seeking reassurance that you love her.  In our world it's a brick in the face.  So every man has to decode.  This negativity that's coming at you, you feel you don't deserve this disrespect, and you're right.  Everybody respects you but her, you're right.  But her motivation here is different.  She is wanting to connect with you.  You matter to her more than any other adult in her life, and she is seeking to connect with you on an intimate level, and she is insecure, and she's seeking reassurance that you love her.

So one of the things I had to learn as we went through our years of marriage that when Sarah was negatively reacting to me in a way that felt so hugely disrespectful at times that it's often a faint praise.  It was a compliment.  I mattered to her more than any other person.  She was threatened at the core of her being, and she was doing what almost every woman does – move toward the husband to connect and engage to resolve and reconcile this thing.  But it took me years to figure that out – that she wasn't trying to emasculate me to get me to sing tenor in the boys' choir.  That was not her motivation.

So I had to suspend those feelings and be a man of honor, take the momentary hit and turn toward her, which is never natural.  But when I did that, she softened almost every time.

Dennis: There is a difference, though, between being hit with a noodle and being hit by a brick.

Emerson: That's right, and that's exactly the point I'm making.  He has to decide is her deepest intent to show him content and belligerence for who he is.  Even when she says, "I don't feel any respect for you," the question is – is that really what she means by what she says?  And one of the points we make is she's using words that have a different meaning to her, and she will use it – "I don't feel any respect for you right now."  And in our world, that's a killer.  It would be like us saying to our wives we don't love you.  But what I'm asking a man to do is to decode – is she a good-willed woman?  Is she intending evil?  Is she really trying to emasculate?  Is her purpose here to show you disrespect or is her purpose to be reassured that you love her for who she is?  The means she is using to get a worthy end are inappropriate, and I coach women on changing their approach.  But if her heart is in the right place, don't shut down on her, because she's really not trying to do toward you what you think.

Bob: I'll tell you how I've had to decode and apply this principle – there are times you walk into a room, and it's frosty.  There's kind of a chill in the air, and you can tell your wife is not happy.

Now, as a guy, the first thing I think when I walk into a room, and my wife is not happy is, "What did I do?"

Emerson: That's right – what did I do wrong?

Bob: Now, I've had to pull back on a number of occasions and go, "It's not necessarily all about me."  There is a lot going on in Mary Ann's life.  There is a lot of stuff that can be affecting her disposition and her mood.  So I'll have to walk in, and it's a little frosty, and my first reaction is, "Now, wait.  I'm not this bad a guy.  Why am I getting this disrespect?"  But I'll just have to – you've got to talk to yourself, you've got to tell yourself, as you said, "This is a good woman.  There are circumstances in her life, something is up in her life.  My radar goes up, I need to help her sort out and figure out what's causing this in her own heart.  That's how I can love her through it.

Emerson: Yes, excellent.

Dennis: And that's what God is trying to do in each of our lives.  He's trying to teach men how to be students of our wives and truly love them the way they need to be loved.  And if we shut down because we think we're being disrespected, we'll never be able to love them.  And, for wives, Emerson, I don't think most wives understand how important respect is to a man.  I think there's been a good case made.  I don't know that men have really got it yet for loving our wives, but we've not talked as much, I don't think, on the other side of the coin to the wives about what respect means to a man and how she can go about respecting him, and I hope as we continue this conversation that we'll equip both sexes to get out of the crazy cycle and on to one another's agenda and meet one another's needs the way God intended.

Bob: Yes, and I hope our listeners will do two things as a result of today's program.  If they've not already read Dr. Eggerichs's book, "Love and Respect,"  I hope they'll get a copy from us and make it a priority to read through this book together.  You can go to our website,, on the right side of the home page, there's a box that says "Today's Broadcast," and if you click there, you'll find New Testament about how you can get the book, "Love and Respect," how we can send it to you, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY, and someone on our team will let you know how we can make arrangements to get a copy of this book out to you.  But I hope you'll get it and read it and read it together and talk about it, because I think it will have a powerful impact on your marriage relationship.

And then the second thing we hope you'll do, which will also have a powerful impact on your relationship, is plan to attend one of our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences this fall when it comes to a city near where you live.  We're hosting this conference in dozens of cities throughout the fall, and this week, between now and Friday, our listeners have an opportunity to register for one of these upcoming conferences and save up to $100 per couple off the complete package.

All the details are available on our website at  Again, you click where it says "Todays' Broadcast," and there is a link there that will give you all the information about the special offer for listeners.  But what you need to know is that if you're going to sign up and take advantage of the offer of savings of up to $100 per couple off the complete package, you need to mention that you're a radio listener when you call to register at 1-800-FLTODAY, or if you're registering online, there is a keycode box on the registration form, and you need to type my name, just type "Bob" in the keycode box, and that way we'll know you're a listener.  And we need to hear from you this week.  We need you to call right now to take advantage of this special opportunity.

So the toll-free number is 1-800-FLTODAY, or you can register online at, and we hope you'll plan to come to one of the conferences and take advantage of this special opportunity to save some money.  And, again, if you need more information about dates or locations go to the website, or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY.

Tomorrow, Dr. Eggerich is going to be back with us.  We're going to talk about why the issue of respect is so important in a marriage relationship, why it matters so much to husbands, particularly.  We'll have that conversation tomorrow, and I hope you can be back with us for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow. 


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